Welcome to Part Six of 15 Years of Mysteries! The list of titles for 2009 proved to be a bit more challenging to my powers of recall. Knowing what was read is far different from remembering what my thoughts and opinions were. Over the years, some books made an impression while others are but a vague memory. The challenge in revisiting these 15 years of mysteries is most definitely in trying to jog one’s memory.
One thing I most definitely remember is that, in 2009—for the first time—the group could read any book by the author chosen for the monthly discussion. And what better mystery author to select than the Queen of Mystery herself.
January 2009 selection
Various by Agatha Christie
Synopsis: Agatha Christie (1890-1976) is considered the Queen of Mystery. She wrote 66 novels and 14 short story collections; many of which are considered classics of the genre. The Mystery Book Group was free to choose any Christie novel to read.
Thoughts: Technically, I didn’t choose any particular title for this one as I had already read every Christie novel and short story. No matter what anyone in the group had chosen to read, I was prepared to discuss it! If I had to recommend a Christie for a first-time reader (depending on their taste), I would suggest: The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Murder on the Orient Express, Murder at the Vicarage, A Murder is Announced, or Murder is Easy.
February 2009 selection
Death on Demand by Carolyn G. Hart
Synopsis: Annie Laurance and Max Darling investigate a locked room mystery in this first book in the long-running Death on Demand series. Annie is the prime suspect when murder strikes at a gathering of famous mystery writers. It’s up to Annie and Max to prove her innocence and find the real killer.
Thoughts: A solid read.
March 2009 selection
The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
Synopsis: Marlowe befriends a down on his luck war veteran with the scars to prove it. Then he finds out that Terry Lennox has a very wealthy nymphomaniac wife, whom he’s divorced and re-married and who ends up dead. Now Lennox is on the lam and the cops and a crazy gangster are after Marlowe.
Thoughts: I had previously seen the 1946 film, The Big Sleep, but this book left a far more favorable impression on me. The Big Sleep is an excellent example of classic film noir. Yet Humphrey Bogart’s Marlowe doesn’t seem all that different from the actor’s portrayal of Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon. This Edgar Award-winning novel is a much better presentation of the character, and I really enjoyed it.
April 2009 selection
Killer Year: Stories to Die For edited by Lee Child
Synopsis: Sample 13 debut crime/mystery/suspense authors (whose books were published in 2007) in this anthology of murder and mayhem stories.
Thoughts: This was our group’s first time reading a short story collection. It’s a great way to sample a variety of authors, many of them well known. I can’t say I remember much about the stories included, but I do recall that the groups consensus was that we liked Sean Chercover’s “One Serving of Bad Luck” as the best story of the bunch.
May 2009 selection
The Ballad of Frankie Silver by Sharyn McCrumb
Synopsis: In 1833, Frankie Silver became the first woman in North Carolina to be hanged for murder. Now, 100 years later, Spencer Arrowood begins to question the similarities between Frankie’s case and a crime that sent a man to his execution based on Spencer’s testimony.
Thoughts: The historical case, based on a true one, is far more interesting than the modern parallel.
June 2009 selection
Monkeewrench by P.J. Tracy
Synopsis: When people start dying in strange ways in Minneapolis, everyone wonders what the murderer will do next—everyone except the employees of Monkeewrench Software, who are all too aware that their new serial-killer computer game is the model for the crimes.
Thoughts: I remember our group really liking this one. The book was originally written in 2003, just two years before the debut of Criminal Minds. This book has a bit of that TV show’s vibe; both feature criminal profiling but in unique ways.
July 2009 selection
Naked in Death by J. D. Robb
Synopsis: Eve Dallas is a New York police lieutenant hunting for a ruthless killer. In over ten years on the force, she’s seen it all – and knows that her survival depends on her instincts. And she’s going against every warning telling her not to get involved with Roarke, an Irish billionaire – and suspect in Eve’s murder investigation. First in the In Death series.
Thoughts: This is part-mystery, part sci-fi lite. It’s a quick read and an entertaining story.
August 2009 selection
The Bluest Blood by Gillian Roberts
Synopsis: For English teacher Amanda Pepper, the champagne gala on behalf of Philly Prep’s library is her introduction to the très rich Main Line society–an evening so extravagant that nothing can tarnish the party, not even a group of protesters outside burning the host in effigy. Soon, Amanda learns firsthand that the bluest blood bleeds just as red. Especially when it comes to murder.
Thoughts: 8th book in the series. The world of academia and the clash with censorship drive this mystery plot.
September 2009 selection
Death is Now My Neighbor by Colin Dexter
Synopsis: The peaceful quadrangle of Lonsdale College seems remote from the shooting of a young woman in her North Oxford home. But things at Lonsdale are not as tranquil as they appear. The Master of the college is retiring, and two senior dons are vying to succeed him. There are only two people to whom the coveted appointment means more than it does to the two senior dons – their wives. Chief Inspector Morse, investigating the murder on Bloxham Drive, follows a trail that leads to the university. For Morse and his partner, Sergeant Lewis, the question becomes: Is the Mastership of Lonsdale worth killing for?
Thoughts: Mistaken identity, airtight alibis, academic politics, and quirky detectives… What more could a reader want in this intellectual British thriller?
October 2009 selection
Live Bait by P.J. Tracy
Synopsis: St. Paul police detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth look into the murder of an elderly man found face up near his greenhouse with a bullet hole in his head; the first in a string of murders.
Thoughts: The group liked Monkeewrench so much that we opted to read the next book in the series!
November 2009 selection
Wings of Fire by Charles Todd
Synopsis: WWI veteran, Inspector Ian Rutledge, is sent to investigate the sudden death of three members of the same eminent Cornwall family. Now, Ian must uncover the haunting truths of murder and madness rooted in a family crypt.
Thoughts: This historical mystery does a great job of portraying the aftereffects of war, in this case World War I. Rutledge is “haunted” by the voice of a Scottish soldier, who he had been forced to execute during the war, and which serves as a sort of conscience.
December 2009 selection
Antiques to Die For by Jane K. Cleland
Synopsis: In Antiques to Die For, Rosalie confided a secret to her friend Josie, and now Rosalie is dead. Rosalie left behind information that leads to a mysterious treasure and a secret admirer who has turned his creepy attention to Josie.
Thoughts: This cozy mystery offers a glimpse into the fascinating world of antiques and collecting while serving up an intriguing two-fold plot. Who killed Josie? And what priceless artifact did she discover?
And those were the selections for 2009. Once again we read a potpourri of titles.
It’s interesting to note that some of the best reads from this year’s picks were written by co-authors. P.J. Tracy is the pseudonym for a mother-daughter team, and Charles Todd is a mother-son duo.
In 2004, I began a book discussion group focused on the mystery genre. In the 15 years since, the Mystery Book Club has read more than 150 mysteries, suspense thrillers, and a few true crime tales. Follow along as I take you through the years in a look back at “15 Years of Mysteries.” Stay tuned for part seven.